Even though they have suffered a painful history, Cambodia truly is a peaceful and some may say a spiritual place today. We would encourage you to discover Siem Reap. Of all the places we have traveled to to date, Cambodia and it’s neighboring country Thailand are at the top of our favorites list. For baby boomer travel, definetly put it on your bucket list.
We spent 4 enchanting days in Siem Reap. The history of Cambodia and it’s people is rich and has changed my life, having touched my soul so deeply. They have seen such horror, yet they have found such peace with their past.
The Temples of Siem Reap
Our first day was spent touring 3 of the ancient temples in the area. Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. I can not encourage you enough to get a private tour guide. You will learn so much. Our guide was a man in his 50s who had grown up during the time of the Killing Fields. If you are not familiar with that part of history you can read about it here. Our guides father died of starvation during that period. He shared some of his life story with us which gave us a historical perspective of life in war torn countries.
The temples were amazing. Ta Prohm is where the movie Tomb Raider was partially filmed starring Angelina Jolie. Bayon is known for it’s giant smiling faces and Angkor Wat, the father of all temples is the most massive in size.
The time of day to go is a difficult decision. Some say the early morning because you can see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, others recommend the late afternoon just before sunset, when crowds are less. The crowds are enormous. Having a guide was also be a benefit, our guide walked right to the front of the line, got our passes in minutes.
The day spent with our guide at the temples was touching, but this day gave us even more to think about. It was a spur of the moment decision to go on a quad tour of the countryside. Honestly we thought we would just be seeing scenery, but this was the day that touched me in a way that has left a mark on my heart that will never go away.
Before we left our guide asked if we would be interested in getting a box of “new dolls” for the children. It was a box of “new dolls” for about 6 US dollars. We said sure, but were a little confused as to what the little boys would be getting. Our guide seemed a little baffled too at our question and confusion.
After a brief lesseon and a test drive for me, I was given my own quad. It was so fun! We started out of town and after about 15 minutes we came upon a very dust little shack. As we approached it was apparent this was tiny little store. A woman came out carrying a very dusty, faded and warped box. My confusion only grew at this point, how many tiny little “new dolls” could fit in that little box.
Then the box was opened and what we were looking at was 30 packets of ramen noodles, aka “new dolls”. It hit us, OMG we were going to be feeding children. Knowing immediatly that one box would not be enough we purchased a second. We loaded them on our quads and off we went.
About 10 mins later as we headed down this very rutted, narrow road a small child came running out of the bushes, then another and another, chasing after us. We pulled into a tiny community with a handful of houses. The children kept coming, waving at each other to hurry, come on. About 30 beautiful little faces eventually gathered around us, shy, smiling, excited and trying very hard to be polite and wait patiently.
Our guide instructed them that they could only have 1 packet each. They lined up and eagerly waited for their bag of “new dolls”. Each very politely said thank you and with beaming faces, they skipped off with their gift. One little girl waited even after she recieved her noodles, then Timo realized that the woman standing a short distance away, holding a small child was her mother and her baby sister. She was given a second bag of noodles.
We headed on down the road with our second box of ramen noodles and stopped wherever we saw children. Some came running out of an irrigation ditch where they had been waiting. One little boy was so shy, that even after all his friends had taken their noodles it took a bit more coaxing for him to take his. Another little boy in that group was so hungry that he ripped his bag of ramen open right then and there and ate them dry and crunchy.
By the end of our tour we were covered in dust, but our hearts were filled in a way that we had never experienced before. We were dropped off at our hotel and decided to go into the lounge for something cool to drink. The staff at the hotel was incredibly gracious, helpful, and friendly to the point they just loved talking to their guests. After wanting to know our story, the man serving us our drinks shared some of his story.
He also had grown up around the time of the Killing Fields, this wasn’t that long ago. The 70s! His parents had to give him up to a Buddhist monestary so that he could survive. Our reaction was how sad, but not him, he was grateful. Grateful to his parents that they made that sacrifice. He wanted to know all about America and hoped to be able to go there some day.
I can’t speak entirely for my husband, but my perspective of life has never been the same since that day. I do know that Cambodia is Timo’s favorite place we have ever been to.
Getting Around Siem Reap
They drive on the right side in Cambodia, so driving a car would have been doable I guess. The traffic is insane there. Mopeds, tuk tuks, really children on bicyces weaving through traffic and moped carrying entire families. They use their motor bikes like trucks, haul the chickens, pets, even saw a man hauling 2 slaughtered pigs.
There really is no need to drive yourself as you discover Siem Reap. TukTuks are everywhere and they are extremely affordable. It’s so nice to get a ride with someone who usually knows exactly where you are going. We developed a friendship with one TukTuk driver and to this day we stay in touch. He was always waiting outside of our hotel in the morning. When he took us to the museum, he waited outside. Dropped us off for dinner, he came right back to get us when we were ready.
Pibak is his name and if you would like his phone # just let me know. Another story there. Sometime after we had returned home I had posted a picture of the 3 of us on IG. A friend mentioned that he looked so young and wondered how old he was. I asked him and he private messaged me that he did not know as he had lost both of his parents as a very small child.
We ate fabulous food, got massages, sat around at the Red Piano on Pub Street talking to fellow travelers. There is shopping for all kinds of stuff, both local goodies like scorpions on skewers. There are clothes, lots of items made of silk and all the touristy stuff you could ever want to see. We took a TukTuk out to a silk farm which was really interesting and we stopped at an art center on the way back.
We always felt safe. As a woman, I felt safer there than I have ever felt anywhere else in the world. Major crime isn’t a problem. There is petty theft, but you will understand why when you see how little some have. Just keep your wallets in a secure location on your person. The people of Cambodia are hard workers, generous and so incredibly friendly.
Often when talking to people they seem to think of Cambodia as so different it is almost scary. Consider though that Europeans and Australians go to South Asia so often, it is kind of like people in the US going to Mexico or Costa Rica. I’ve been to both and I felt every bit as safe it Cambodia than either of those locations. Honestly maybe even safer at some level. Cambodians have a different mindset. Just go, you will love it!